Cinderella, thy name is Virginia Commonwealth!
In one of the biggest NCAA tournament upsets ever, ranking right up there with George Mason’s 2006 upending of top-seed Connecticut, 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth pulled off a 71-61 win over the tournament’s final No. 1 seed, Kansas, in yesterday’s Southwest regional final.
The shocker upstaged a battle of legendary programs, in which No. 4 Kentucky beat No. 2 Carolina 76-69 in the East regional final in Newark.
The lightly regarded Rams’ effort over Bill Self’s squad was the story of the decade. This, remember, was a team that was so on the bubble that it didn’t bother to convene to watch the Selection Sunday show.
So much for the doubters.
“Those people don’t matter,” VCU’s 33-year-old coach Shaka Smart said. “The only people that matter is the 14 guys on our team, and they never stopped believing.”
Thanks to Jamie Skeen’s 26-point, 10-rebound effort and a scrambling defense, the Final Four will feature no No. 1 seeds.
Neither team hit consistently from the floor. But VCU’s work behind the arc, paced by 4-of-7 shooting from both Skeen and Brandon Rozell, overwhelmed the Jayhawks. The Rams hit 12 treys — nine in the first half — on 48 percent shooting, while Kansas sank just 2 of 21 (9.5 percent) from 3.
The Rams jumped out to a 41-27 halftime lead, but never trailed after Skeen hit a 3-pointer for a 12-10 lead with 13:59 remaining in the half.
Kansas narrowed the gap to two in the second half, but Skeen and point guard Joey Rodriguez hit key 3-pointers, and Skeen, Rodriguez and Ed Nixon hit eight straight free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
The victory assured that the mid-majors will be represented in the NCAA final next Monday. VCU, only the third 11th seed to make the Final Four along with George Mason in 2006 and LSU in 1986, will play Southeast winner Butler in the semifinal.
Kentucky had to fend off the Tar Heels, who came back from 11 down in the second half to tie at 67 with 3:18 remaining. But freshman guard Brandon Knight, with a game-high 22 points, gave the lead back to the Wildcats with his fifth 3-pointer of the game. DeAndre Liggins’ three-pointer with 38 seconds assured Kentucky of a Final Four matchup against West champ Connecticut and its electric guard, Kemba Walker.